Category Archives: Australia

Social Media Accessibility Toolkit: New from Emergency 2.0 Wiki

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of ...

English: A collection of pictograms. Three of them used by the United States National Park Service. A package containing those three and all NPS symbols is available at the Open Icon Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Post by: Kim Stephens

One question that inevitably comes up when discussing social media with emergency managers  is the problem of accessibility: Is the content on social media available to everyone in my community? In turn, community members with disabilities want access to content on social networks and want to use these tools during a crisis. Although there are answers about how best to address these concerns, before today, solutions were not in one handy location. That has changed with the launch of the Accessibility Toolkit on the Emergency 2.0 Wiki (full disclosure–I was involved with planning the launch of this site). The wiki is a voluntary initiative of the Gov 2.0 QLD Community of Practice in Australia, launched in December 2011.

The purpose of the toolkit is stated clearly on the site:

The Emergency 2.0 Wiki Accessibility Toolkit was developed to empower people with disabilities to use social media for disaster preparedness, response and recovery. This toolkit was developed in response to the fact that not all people with a disability are able to access life saving messages delivered through social media due to the accessibility challenges that the tools currently pose.

International Collaboration

The kit was pulled together with a team, they call  a reference group, which included individuals from Australia, the United States and New Zealand. Dr. Scott Hollier, one of the group’s members as well as an Advisory Committee Representative at Media Access Australia, provides some context for why the group felt this tool was necessary:

“We’ve witnessed from recent disasters that social media has the potential to save lives, but people with disabilities often have difficulty accessing important messages as the social media platforms are inaccessible. For example, the main Twitter website can’t be easily read with a screen reader, the device that reads out information on a screen for people who are blind, but important emergency information can be accessed by using an alternative site such as Easy Chirp to read tweets,” he said.  “As people tweet in real time, an accessible app such as Easy Chirp can provide people who are blind with immediate notification of when a fire starts or when flash floods hit a town,” said Dr Hollier.

Information for People With A Disability

The toolkit includes a list of tips, resources and apps that are intended to assist people with a disability to overcome accessibility challenges of social media. Easy Chirp, for instance, is described and linked to, along with information about and links to emergency apps, such as those intended for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing that vibrate and flash when sending emergency alerts. The wiki also includes emergency preparedness YouTube videos that either use sign language or are captioned.

Information for the Professional Communicator

For the emergency sector, government, community, media and business professionals there are practical guidelines listed that will help them make their social media messages more accessible.  For example, information is provided about how to use apps to add captioning on YouTube Videos for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing.

One of the best aspects of Emergency 2.0 Wiki is that it is a free volunteer-based resource. Their goal is laudable:   “…to build resilience by empowering all sectors of the community with the knowledge to use social media and networks in emergencies.” The fact that they are working to accomplished this goal via international collaboration, knowledge sharing and crowdsourcing locally and globally, is the cherry on top!

If you have any questions about the wiki simply leave a comment here or contact Stephanie Jo Kent, Working Group on Emergency Interpreting at Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Inc; Founder, Learning Labs for Resiliency.

QPS Media Story Never Gets Old!

Post by: Kim Stephens

Special Emergency Response Team (Queensland)

Special Emergency Response Team (Queensland) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

July 12, 2012 ZDNET posted a story recounting the amazing experience of Queensland Police Service and their use of social media during the January 2011 floods in Australia. Reading it reminded me of why I find the cause of social media and emergency/crisis communications so compelling. There are numerous quotes from Kym Charlton- executive director of the Queensland Police Service’s (QPS) media and public affairs branch, that could headline a social media and emergency management conference. Each of her statements seem to address the question “Why should I use social media to communicate with the public during a crisis?”

Here’s what they learned:

  • Bypass the Media as the message filter and provide hyper-local information:

“We were able to pump out a whole lot of information that we knew wouldn’t make the mainstream media; they just wouldn’t have picked up that volume of information. It was quite low level, but it was really important if it was about your area,” she said.

  • Get information out in a timely fashion:

“Rather than me sitting in a disaster-management meeting, listening to the premier being briefed, taking notes, going out and giving it to someone to write a media release, then spending the rest of the day chasing around incredibly busy people to clear the information, I started to post status updates as I heard the premier being briefed,” she said.

  • Expect to work long days:

“For example, the day that the Lockyer Valley flooded was the same day that Brisbane and Ipswich realised there was going to be a major flood. All of a sudden, you had the entire population of both cities desperately trying to work out if their houses were going to flood. A lot of people weren’t here in 1974; also, there are way more houses [now] than there used to be. We saw a huge jump of people coming to the page to find that information.” On that particular day, 10 January, Charlton sent her first and last tweets at 4.45am and 11.45pm, respectively.

  • Expect a huge increase in the amount of people accessing your social pages. 

“The numbers surrounding 10 January are astonishing. The QPS Facebook page received 39 million individual story views — the equivalent of 450 page impressions per second — while being updated by staff every 10 minutes or so. (“That amount of traffic would have crashed both our public website and our operational website,” Charlton noted.)

Their Facebook audience grew from 16,500 on 9 January to 165,000 within a fortnight; many of those joined the page during the 24-hour period following the Lockyer Valley torrent. Overnight, the QPS social-media accounts had become a lifejacket to which many Queenslanders clung.

  • Establish your social presence before an event occurs.

“We were in that wonderful position where we knew enough to be able to use it [during the floods],” she said. “It wasn’t a decision where anyone said, OK, we’re going to focus on social media’. We just started doing it because it worked.”

  • Don’t advertise the goods, just deliver them.

“…QPS is just one shining star within a tight-knit constellation of Australian police departments that live and breathe social media each day. None of them have spent a single cent on advertising or promoting these channels; fittingly, they’ve all developed organically through networked word of mouth.”

End result: “…connect humans with one another, and to share meaningful information immediately.”

Thank you QPS Media and ZDNet for reminding us all of this amazing story and example to live up to!

Crowdsourcing Down Under

Post by: Kim Stephens

The Brisbane, Australia City Council has deployed a Ushahidi map in response to flooding occuring in their community.  What is Ushahidi? Watch the 2 minute video on their website, but in general the software allows for reports from anyone (the public, first responders, government agencies) to be submitted and posted to an interactive map.

For this instance of Ushahidi they are currently only displaying three categories of information: flooded roads, road closures and sandbag locations.  For example, the map above shows a pink dot for all road closures.  Brisbane City Council also has a twitter feed they are using to not only provide critical information, but also to advertise the map’s existence.  Citizens can report information about the flood by sending a tweet to the hashtag #bccroads or by filling in the form on the website. People are also clearly sending information by “@” messaging the Council via twitter. (Ushahidi has a mobile platform, however, I’m not sure if that application is being utilized for this event.)
I like how the Council replies to the reports of flooding by also reminding the citizen, as well as everyone else, about the map.

The benefit of this map, which includes highly decentralized, hyper-local information, is demonstrated  by simply clicking on one of the icons. Each blue dot represents a road closure that the user can click to obtain the full report, pictured above. This report states “Bowman Parade (road) is currently experiencing localized flooding. Please do not attempt to drive through flood waters.” The platform also allows the user to understand if the information has been verified or not, and in this case, is has been. There are 64 reports currently listed.

This isn’t groundbreaking. However, I am intrigued that a government agency has so completely embraced crowdsourced information. They understand that first responders can’t be everywhere, but citizens, armed with cell phones and an easy way to report what they are seeing, can provide critical, life-saving information for the benefit of everyone. I read a blog post just yesterday by an American first responder who  lamented that there was no great way to gather information from the crowd. I’m always a bit surprised to read posts like that, which is why I continue to write about Ushahidi and similar applications. If you are aware of any US government, local or state, that has deployed Ushahidi, let me know.

How do we reach young people with disaster info? Think mobile.

Post by Kim Stephens

When Volunteering Queensland wanted to develop a “Disaster App” that also addressed the needs of young people, developers took a novel approach: they asked youths what they wanted. Specifically they conducted in-depth research through a series of facilitated workshops in a process they called “participatory data collection.” They found that the App “must be flexible, adaptive and youth-targeted in terms of content, language, imagery and interaction and importantly, stream real-time, localised information. The research has also revealed the need for a streamlined source of information and directory of services and resources that young people can easily engage with.” The analysis was led by Anthony Frangi of the School of Journalism and Communication of the University of Queensland and it resulted in the report titled: Strengthening Youth Resilience to Natural Disaster with Smartphone Technology.

I found this report fascinating since it dovetails almost the exact same issues we encounter in the U.S., although I know of no similar research that asks American youths what they would like to see in a disaster App. We tend to take a one-size fits all approach. However, it is interesting to note that for the most part, the youths  that participated detailed the same kinds of information requirements as adults. One exception, however, is possibly in how they determine whether or not they will volunteer. As I’ve seen with my own teens, they want to volunteer, but only if people from their friend network are also participating.

This report is also valuable in terms of the cited research they provide as background information. For instance, when discussing resilience  as it pertains to young people they state:

… youth have particular needs and different means of communicating, and as bigger risk-takers than their adult counterparts are often perceived as requiring additional support, including peer, and role models for safety behaviour. Additionally, young people may also require assistance post events, in order to fully ‘process’ the events around them. Disaster management often assumes young people are ‘passive’ with little role in communicating risks or preventing and responding to disasters; with such responsibilities awarded to the grown-ups; and certainly it is an under-researched area. Choong et al (2008) counters this, arguing that youth have great capacity to play positive and important roles in disaster resilience, including being a part of the knowledge making processes – before, during and after disasters, and engaging in positions of leadership and responsibility within the community and among peers.”

This report is certainly one to bookmark if your agency is considering developing an App, I’ve already put it in my list of resources. By the way, here’s the App they eventually created. According to their website the App allows people to do following:

  1. Register with CREW to be an emergency volunteer;
  2. See current emergency volunteering opportunities;
  3. Access all the key contacts for emergencies in one place and save your own emergency contacts;
  4. Watch short disaster preparedness and response videos;
  5. Find out what you need to have in your emergency stay/go kit (and check them off when you’ve got them);
  6. Read the latest news from

New Report on Twitter Use in Queensland Floods

Post by: Kim Stephens

A new report was released this week which examines the use of Twitter during the January 2011 flooding event in Queensland, Australia.  The report was led by Dr. Alex Bruns and Dr. Jean Burgess of the Media Ecologies Project, ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation (CCI) with Kate Crawford and Frances Shaw of University of New South Wales (see citation below).  They examine the role of Twitter during that event by applying a rigorous research methodology, which is detailed in the report.

The report has a list of 21 key findings in the executive summary. To me, the most interesting aspect of what they discovered was the weight the most visible emergency services account, @QPSMedia, carried in the twitter-sphere. It demonstrates how valuable this communication became during the flooding as people gravitated to official information. What they confirm is the notion that if your agency participates on social platforms with consistent, clear, timely messages, you can become the voice people trust.

Here’s the list of their 11 finding regarding @QPSMedia:

  • As the most visible account on #qldfloods, the Queensland Police Service Media Unit account (@QPSMedia) played a leading role in disseminating timely and relevant information to the public, and in coordinating and guiding the wider discussion.
  • The Queensland Police Service was able to ‘cut through’ effectively: to reach its immediate audience as well as be passed along and thus amplified many times over, with the help of other Twitter users acting as further information disseminators, especially at the height of the crisis.
  • Tweets from and to the @QPSMedia account were overwhelmingly focussed on providing situational information and advice. Engagement between @QPSMedia and its followers remained topical and to the point, significantly involving directly affected local residents.
  • By contrast, the overall #qldfloods discussion contained substantially more tweets discussing the wider implications of the disaster and offering personal reactions, often sent from elsewhere in Australia and the world.
  • @QPSMedia’s ‘#Mythbuster’ tweets – directly tackling the rumours and misinformation about the floods which circulated on Twitter and elsewhere – were especially successful, and very widely retweeted.
  • The central role of @QPSMedia as an information source was widely acknowledged and applauded by Twitter users even while the disaster event itself still unfolded. This also places @QPSMedia well as an important participant in the Twitter-based coverage and management of future crises.
  • Additionally, @QPSMedia also played a crucial role in enabling affected locals and more distant onlookers to begin the difficult process of making sense and coming to terms with these events, even while they were still unfolding.
  • The tenor of tweets during the latter days of the immediate crisis shifted more strongly towards organising volunteering and fundraising efforts, but more strongly so in the overall #qldfloods discussion than in the @QPSMedia conversation. @QPSMedia provided information on volunteering opportunities, but did not significantly promote fundraising schemes.
  • Retweeting of messages focussed especially on tweets with immediate relevance to the crisis at hand: tweets containing situational information and advice, and news media and multimedia links were retweeted disproportionately often. In general #qldfloods discussion, though not in the @QPSMedia conversation, this is true also for help and fundraising tweets. Less topical tweets were far less likely to be retweeted.
  • @QPSMedia’s now established position as a leading account for crisis communication in Queensland places it well to explore more systematic approaches for crowdsourcing situationally valuable information directly from the Twitter community, in addition to continuing its role as a key information disseminator.
  • Similarly, @QPSMedia is also in a position to build further dedicated links to the Twitter accounts of key media organisations and civic authorities, to develop a more comprehensive social media crisis communication infrastructure in Queensland.

Citation: Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, Kate Crawford, and Frances Shaw. #qldfloods and @QPSMedia: Crisis Communication on Twitter in the 2011 South East Queensland Floods. Brisbane: ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, 2012.

Social Media’s Use in Emergencies: Research from Victoria, Australia

Post by: Kim Stephens

We often lament in the emergency management community that there isn’t enough quantitative data regarding the use of social media in disasters. A new report from Australia is helping to fill that void. During the 2011 Victorian Floods social media was difficult to ignore. The Office of the Emergency Services Commissioner and the Victorian State Emergency Service therefore  commissioned Alliance Strategic Research to conduct an independent research project to explore and document social media’s use during that event. The research objectives:

  • document social media comments during the Victorian floods
  • analyse and ascertain the nature of these comments
  • establish flows of information and recommend approaches for future events

I haven’t had a chance to read through the entire report yet, but they have a great video describing the major findings. Two things that stood out to me: one, people start talking about recovery issues during the height of the crisis; two, the tone of people’s responses are more positive than negative.

Here is their summary of major findings:

  • the key behaviour documented was spreading information through social media channels, with the information generally helpful and positive in its nature;
  • regional areas of Victoria are active in social media;
  • different social media channels were used for different types of communications at different times;
  • social media volume increases with the population of the affected area, severity and duration of events;
  • Twitter was the most active medium, and was used heavily by media outlets;
  • evidence of a one-to-one communications model, with community members engaging with each other individually.

This link will take you to their homepage where you can download the full report.

Social Media After Action Review: Brisbane Australia

Brisbane CBD and the Story Bridge, Brisbane QLD.

Image via Wikipedia

Post by: Kim Stephens

An Independent Review was undertaken to study the use of social media by the City Council of Brisbane, Australia during the historic flooding events of January, 2011. Thanks to Patrice Cloutier  and his daily “picks” for alerting me to the story. I recommend the report be bookmarked for ready reference by any emergency management organization either already engaged in social media or considering using the medium. Another important social media case study was also recently completed by the Queensland Police Service, which I highlighted last week.  The findings are similar, but the Brisbane report does touch on a few different insights I’d like to draw attention to here.

Strategy for information flow to the public and FROM the public.

Several of the keys to the Council’s success mentioned in the report were items that I think most of us really understand and are comfortable with.

  •  It is important to have an established social media presence before a crisis occur.
  • It is important to have staff redundancy, e.g. more than one person knows and understands how to use the platforms.
  • Communications to the public via these mediums should include items such as information regarding how to stay safe, evacuation centers and routes, staging areas for relief supplies, and public relations info including details about response activities–often designed to instill confidence in the public that we are doing a good job (the latter, in my opinion, is often overly emphasized).

 But with regard to obtaining information from the public via social media, our comfort level decreases, markedly. The review of the Brisbane Council’s activities includes an entire section on how they monitored social media channels and then were able to quickly feed that information back to decision makers.

Council’s social media channels were monitored continuously and the information was provided back to the (Local Disaster Coordination Center) LDCC where appropriate. Using a system of ‘hot topics’, the most common queries from the public via social media channels were fed back hourly to the LDCC to obtain the correct responses which could then be shared publicly.

Relationship Building

Another theme throughout the report, similar to the QPS review, is the importance of relationship building with the community  “to ensure that they trusted Council as an authority in the space.” This includes everything from the tone of the postings which should be open and conversational, to the speed of answering enquiries.  This of course, can present challenges as well:

For overcoming difficulties, the main issue was the rapid speed of information flowing and managing this effectively. Due to the nature of social media, regular response times that might be found in traditional media weren’t acceptable, and it was important to streamline existing communication processes.


The report indicated that the Council has a Digital Communications Team which “devised and implemented a highly successful social media campaign to communicate vital flood information to the community.” The Digital Team was already in place pre-event and had identified four overarching objectives for their social media communications: Audience reach (raising awareness of the SM channels), information management, information sharing, and community and business mobilization. Once the crisis began to unfold they planned for four key communication areas:  evacuation center locations, waste disposal info, health and safety, and volunteering information.

Almost the instant a crisis occurs people are already asking where they can volunteer and what they can donate. Using social media channels to communicate this information seems like a natural fit, especially since quite a few of these request occur on the platforms and since people will organize to volunteer with or without you.

One of the biggest social media successes for Council involved co-ordination of volunteers from early on in the flood event and the aftermath. Council social media channels were used as the main communication tool to ask for volunteers to help in clean up efforts. On Friday 14 January around 5pm, the Lord Mayor announced that there would be Volunteering Clean-Up weekend.

By 6am the next day, more than 10,000 volunteers arrived at designated meeting points and had registered to help the community. Facebook and Twitter were used as primary means of coordinating volunteers at the volunteer areas and in the coming weeks, Councillors also used these channels to ask for help. On many occasions, Councillors asked for help from 100-250 volunteers with only 24 hours notice, and upwards of 700 showed up.

Great stuff, and some great lessons for all of us.